"We're gonna build a little home for two, or three, or four, or more, in Love-land for me and my gal."(1917, Meyer, Leslie and Goetz)
I remember planning our wedding. We were talking through various elements of the ceremony, including the traditional walk the bride takes seven times around her groom. We changed the choreography a little, so it involved both of us walking around each other, but the symbolism was clear: we were building a home around each other, creating a safe space, a haven from the outside world….a sanctuary.
"Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you"
"Va'asuli mikdash v'shochanti b'tocham" (Shmot 25:8)
This comes from this week's parasha "Terumah". The Israelites are in the desert after leaving Egypt,and they are being instructed , via Moses, to build a temporary, movable place to commune, converse, engage and come near to God. It's the original, "If you build it, I will come".
It's no surprise that the idea of a specially-built place to shelter a new relationship appears in both contexts; that of Israel and God, and two people getting married. Judaism, in fact, continually dances between the two images in both Rabbinic and contemporary writing, embracing the metaphor of Israel and God as two loving, committed halves of a whole relationship.
The very language of the word "v'shochanti" (I will dwell) makes the connection. The three-letter root is the same as in the word "Shechinah", understood as God's presence here on earth. Torah, and other parts of the Biblical writings highlight the theme of love and marriage as the model for the relationship between God and Israel, God's "chosen/beloved ones". The Kabbalists introduced the idea of Shechinah as the female aspect of God, the emanation that is most accessible to us, closest to us, who forms the bridge between those of us on earth, and the more unknowable aspects of God in heaven. We encourage the "Sabbath Bride" to visit us each week, allowing a weekly re-union between Bride and Groom, God and us, which tradition invokes by encouraging a "re-union" with our own earthly partners on Shabbat. Traditionally, we read the passionate poetry in "Songs of Songs" as an allegory of the love between God and Israel, though the words are said between two very sensual humans.
The Jewish wedding ceremony continues this metaphor, not only with the walking-around ritual I described, but standing under the chuppah itself. The chuppah rests on four poles, as did the Mishkan, the Sanctuary. The chuppah and the Mishkanare structures that separate space. They mark the before and after, the alone and the together, the distant and the close, the not-holy and the holy.
Parashat "Terumah" begins what I like to call the "Home Depot" section of the Torah; it's all about measuring, cutting, materials and building. It's incredibly detailed, and one always wonders if the details of building of the Mishkan is laid out for us, or for God. I think it's for us. The more care and attention we pay to establishing something, whether it's building a building, or building a marriage, the more precious it is. For Judaism, it's not the devil that's in the details, it's love. Standing under a chuppah, the couple is literally entering into a holy state (the wedding is called "kiddushin" – we recognize the root kadosh, holy, separate). We pay so much attention to our sweethearts as we get to know each other and fall in love. Making a marriage work is about keeping up the details, too: a quick kiss hello and goodbye, making the tea just the way he likes it, bringing her coffee even though he doesn't drink the stuff.
The Israelites learned this as they painstakingly followed the directions laid out for the building of this holy place, where they could be closer to God. Whether our love is new or whether it's got lots of mileage on it, we can learn this lesson, too: love is a sanctuary, a mini-Mishkan here on earth.
I think I'll go make my husband some of that tea he likes so much.